Making Art with Vimeo Max/MSP

Experimental digital art has existed for over 20 years, and it has grown increasingly nuanced in that time, with better devices and connectivity. We’ve come a long way from writing music with mainframe computers. More artists over the last decade have turned to computers, exploring algorithmic activity as a medium of artistic expression.

Consider what’s going on with Max, a visual programming language tailor-made for creatives, since it doesn’t require coding experience. Max began in the mid-80s as a platform for audio applications — you could use it to build algorithmic music composition systems or spice up your guitar solo. Over time, other artists have adapted Max (and Max extensions like Jitter) for their performances, graphics, and installation art.

Video glitch art by pae181

Max interfaces with OSC, MIDI, and HTTP, among a variety of other protocols, and it can handle input from external hardware like an Arduino via its serial input setup. This makes Max an excellent tool for working with visual art, a form that often uses existing video as raw material and offering a variety of applications — interactive installations, light shows, trans-spatial design (think projection mapping), and concert visuals.

A simple internet search for the phrase Vimeo Max MSP reveals just how much of the artist community that uses Max/MSP also utilizes Vimeo to document their projects and offer tutorials on working with the tool. It’s just a small hop for a platform that serves videos to begin interfacing with tools that use this platform’s content as input. And with video content becoming all-pervasive, network-accessible, and a predominant medium of consumption on the web, it makes sense for a tool like Max to be able to source its video assets from a remote location and use them for an art project.

The Vimeo Max/MSP plugin enables you to access your own Vimeo videos within Max and import them as a matrix, so that Jitter, Max’s video processor, can manipulate them in real time. The plugin does all the Vimeo API heavy lifting through the getvimeofile object, which gives you progressive MP4 files of all your Vimeo videos, all ready for use in a Jitter project. You can also have multiple instances of getvimeofile for importing multiple videos simultaneously.

The Vimeo Max/MSP plugin

Because Jitter operates on matrices to carry out most of its manipulation, the Vimeo Max/MSP API enables you to access most applications — video mixing, rotoscoping, procedural manipulation, gesture-based control, datamoshing, and glitch art. For example, the GitHub repo has a fun demo that shows you how to crossfade two Vimeo videos.

Crossfading two Vimeo videos in Vimeo Max/MSP

Traditionally, the source videos for video art are read out of a file system or a camera feed and are manipulated based on various parameters and sensors. The plugin helps to utilize Vimeo as a centralized location for video assets that a filmmaker can access on the fly to use as raw material for storytelling with contemporary media.

Because we love you, the GitHub repo contains everything you need to get started with Vimeo Max/MSP, including the open-source package, instructions, and example patchers.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, don’t hesitate to leave it! And, if you are looking for other cool things to do with Max, check these out: